25 Nov. '63.
Bragg had a strong natural position on Missionary Ridge. His right, or "strategic," flank was held by 14 brigades in Hardee's corps. Breckinridge had nine brigades with which to cover a twoand-a-half-mile front opposite Grant's center. Three parallel lines of entrenchments had been laid out and partially completed. One line was along the base of the ridge; another had been started about half-way up the slope; and a third was along the crest.
Grant established his headquarters on Orchard Knob 24 Nov., and about midnight sent word to Sherman to resume his attack at dawn. Hooker was ordered to continue his advance to Rossville Gap.
Ewing's division(of Sherman's force) attacked south; the brigade of Corse, reinforced by a regiment of Lightburn, spearheaded the advance, while the brigades of Cockerill, Alexander, and Lightburn were initially to hold the hill taken the day before. Morgan Smith's division advanced along the eastern slope, maintaining contact with Corse on his right. Along the western slope the brigade of Loomis was to advance with two brigades from John Smith's division in support.
Corse moved out under heavy fire and took some high ground about 80 yards from the enemy's main position. From this base he launched repeated assaults for over an hour without success. The forces on his left and right gained ground, thereby relieving some pressure, but were not able to achieve any permanent lodgment. Federal batteries (Callender, Wood, and Dillon) did what they could to support the infantry, but the terrain and the close fighting were such that they could not render effective assistance. Corse was severely wounded about 10 A.M. The fighting on this flank continued with varying results until about 3 P.m.
Meanwhile, Hooker's advance had been delayed four or five hours (Steele) in rebuilding the bridge the Confederates had destroyed over the Chattanooga and in removing other obstructions. It was late afternoon before he was in a position to threaten Bragg's left flank. Bragg, in the meantime, had reinforced his right with the divisions of Cheatham and Stevenson.
Showing outstanding generalship, Grant did not make the error of throwing troops from his center into the planned frontal attack before some decisive results had been achieved on the flanks. Sherman's situation, however, was critical, and the original plan had to be modified. At 10 o'clock he made Howard's two divisions (XI) available to reinforce Sherman's left. A new Federal attack gained some ground, but was driven back by a counterattack which routed the brigades of John Smith (on the right). The brigades of Corse and Loomis then drove the Confederates back into their original positions.
Continuing to reinforce the left, Grant at 12 o'clock ordered Baird's division to move from the right of Indian Hill to reinforce Sherman. Baird arrived behind Sherman's position, was told he was not needed, and then moved to a position on Wood's left. He formed in line at 2:30 (Van Horne).
Hooker, in the meantime, had started attacking the Confederate left. The 27th Mo. (1, 1, XV), deployed as skirmishers, rushed into the gap at Rossville. The rest of Wood's brigade headed for high ground on the right of the gap, and WilIiamson's (2, 1, XV) moved up on the left. The Confederates withdrew, leaving a considerable quantity of supplies. By this time the bridge was completed and the rest of Hooker's forces reinforced the leading brigades. Hooker sent Crufts division along the ridge and Geary and Osterhaus on his left and right, respectively. The 9th and 36th Ind. (3, 1, IV) spearheaded an assault that started crushing Bragg's left flank.
Grant now saw that even though Sherman's envelopment had failed he must make a final effort before dark. Between 3 and 4 P.m. (Van Horne) the long-awaited six cannon shots signaled the assault. The divisions of Baird (XIV), Wood, and Sheridan (both IV), and Johnson (XIV) were on line from left to right.
"I felt no fear for the result," wrote a Confederate brigade commander later, "even though the arrangements to repel the attack were not such as I liked.... I think, however, that I noticed some nervousness among my men as they beheld this grand military spectacle, and I heard remarks which showed that some uneasiness existed, and that they magnified the host in their view to at least double their number." (Manigault, who commanded a brigade in Hindman's [Anderson's] Division, quoted by Alexander.)
Grant had intended that the troops halt after taking the first line, and reorganize. Much to his consternation, Grant saw the troops capture the first line and then press on immediately for the summit. The attackers had found out that lingering in the initial position would subject them to murderous fire from the crest, and that the safest thing was to charge up the hill. This they did on their own initiative, turning it into a "SOLDIERS' BATTLE." Grant is reported to have asked Thomas and Granger: "Who ordered those men up the hill?" Unable to find the answer he said: "Someone will suffer for it, if it turns out badly." (Alexander; B. & L., III, 725.) The commanders actually tried to stop this advance. Turchin's brigade (1, 3, XIV) was halted; Wagner's brigade (2, 2, IV) was called back from an advanced position (Van Horne).
Bragg had made several mistakes in his defensive dispositions. He had split his forces, putting half at the bottom of the hill with secret orders to fire a volley when the enemy got to within 200 yards, and then to withdraw up the slopes (Alexander). Many men apparently were not informed of this plan, and defended the first line even when others had pulled back. A Confederate engineer had taken his instructions literally when told to put the final line on the highest ground. This line was along the geographic or topographic crest instead of the "military crest" (the highest place from which you can see and fire on an approaching enemy). The attackers, therefore, found "dead space" through which they could advance under cover, and came forward in about six separate lines of approach. Footholds were established at various places, and enfilade fire from these penetrations destroyed the Confederate strong points that had been able to resist the frontal assault. As for which regiment reached the crest first, it would be difficult to find a regimental historian who recorded that his own unit was the second. ". . . there is no room to doubt that General Wood's division first reached the summit," writes Van Horne. Sheridan was the only division commander who maintained enough cohesion in his unit to pursue; he took a large number of guns and prisoners, and came very close to capturing Bragg, Breckinridge, and a number of other high-ranking officers. The final assault had lasted about an hour; 37 guns and 2,000 prisoners were taken (Steele).
Hooker, meanwhile, was rolling up the left. Many Confederate units panicked, but Grant was unable to pursue effectively. The Confederates rallied on a ridge about 500 yards to the rear. Cleburne continued to hold Sherman after the firing had died out along the rest of the line. Bragg withdrew that night toward Dalton, while Hardee's corps covered the rear.
The loss of Chattanooga was a severe blow to the dying Confederate cause. A vital line of lateral communications was lost, and the stage was set for Sherman's move to split the Confederacy further by his Atlanta campaign and march to the sea.
Numbers and losses at Chattanooga, 23-25 Nov. '63 (Livermore):
Union Confederate Effectives 56,359 64,165 Killed 753 361 Wounded 4,722 2,160 Missing 349 4,146 Total Losses 5,824(10%) 6,667(14%)
Using Livermore's system of comparing the relative effectiveness of opposing troops, the Federals killed or wounded 44 of the enemy for every 1,000 of their own troops engaged; the Confederates killed or wounded 118 for every 1,000 of their own troops engaged.
Source: "The Civil War Dictionary" by Mark M. Boatner III
This page last updated 02/03/02
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